'Daredevil' Postmortem: Steven DeKnight on Season 1 Deaths and What's Next

The departing showrunner also spills on the mystery of Black Sky and whether or not he'd return for a potential third season.
Netflix

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from season one of Netflix's Daredevil.]

Netflix's Daredevil was unafraid to make its own mark on the Marvel superhero.

The first 13 episodes of the Charlie Cox drama about a blind lawyer-turned-vigilante delivered plenty of twists and turns that the series was able to successfully stand on its own while still delivering fresh new takes on its iconic Marvel characters.

With season one in the rearview mirror and a second season already in the works, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with outgoing showrunner Steven DeKnight to discuss the show's decisions, deaths and what's next when Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez take over.

Matt is known as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen after the incident in episode six. How did the writers approach revealing the Daredevil name?

We talked about, do we do one of the versions in the comics where when he was a kid people used to taunt him with the name Daredevil, but that didn’t quite feel like our world. At one point we were going to have Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) give him the name, but the timing wasn’t right from where he’s in his black outfit and then gets his suit, which is after Ben’s untimely demise. There was something technically tricky of somebody actually saying the words, “Hey you’re some kind of Daredevil.” The solution was to play that off-screen and then hit it in the paper that he’s been given this name Daredevil.

I also got asked a lot of questions about why he doesn’t have a "DD" on his chest, but he got the suit before he got the name. We talked a lot about DD on the suit, which is one of the more problematic emblems in superhero-dom. It’s a little wonky. His suit in the comics is very difficult to translate to screen, especially in this world that is grounded and gritty. There are some practical difficulties. The Daredevil outfit in the comics, his mask only covers half his nose. It doesn’t come all the way down to the tip. We discovered when we were trying to design it that if you didn’t bring it all the way down, you could clearly tell it was Charlie. Not only did we have the suspension of belief that nobody would know “hey, that’s Matt Murdock” we also had the practical problem of it becoming almost impossible when it came to switching in and out our stunt double. So we had to make that adjustment.

I don’t think anyone saw Urich’s death coming. What was the decision behind killing such an iconic character from the comic books?

I’ve been known to kill off a character or two in my past (laughs). I wish I could take credit for this, but killing off Urich was decided before I signed on. I want to say it was Marvel’s idea. They really wanted to show that toward the end of the season because we knew we’d get some sympathy for Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), to have him do something truly terrible that would propel Matt into that final endgame in the confrontation with Fisk. And to let the audience know that the gloves were off: just because he was a beloved character in the comics, doesn’t mean he’s safe. It’s one interpretation. It’s like writers doing a new run of the comic. It felt right for the story. Much like episode four where Fisk kills Anatoly, not because he did something to cross him in the criminal world, but because he embarrassed him on a date. Urich gets murdered because he committed the unforgivable sin in Fisk’s mind: he went to Fisk’s mother. The last thing you want to do with Fisk is at all involve, insult, drag through the mud the women in his life he loves. That will be a serious trigger for him.

You also killed off Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore). His death, was it him being careless because of the stress of the situation?

It was a moment of underestimating Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). We always knew he was going to die; that was decided at the beginning of the season that Karen was going to kill Wesley at some point but the mechanics of “how” were tricky. It’s not so much a moment of carelessness as it was underestimating Karen. He dies because Wilson Fisk is worried about him. That moment when Fisk calls him is the split-second distraction that allows Karen to grab the gun.

Why doesn't Karen want to divulge what happened with Wesley to either Matt or Foggy (Elden Henson)?

There’s something that happened in Karen’s past — we allude to it, Ben alludes to it — and when she grabs the gun she says, “You think this is the first time I’ve ever shot somebody?” That's a secret from her past that she doesn’t want anyone to know. The fact that she shot him once, you can explain that as self-defense; but then she pretty much unloaded the gun into him. That crosses a bit of a line. The last thing she would want is for those two to be horrified by what she’s done. She’s a woman with secrets. Deborah had a great response when somebody asked if Karen would be the girl always getting into trouble and she said, “No I’m the girl who makes trouble.” You’ll see that more. At one point we talked about, does Matt find out at the end of the season? And how does that play out? But ultimately we felt with the Netflix model that we didn’t have to resolve everything by the end of the season. There could be loose threads that we explore as we move on to other seasons.

What as the turning point for Fisk to move from aspiring hero to accepting that he's the villain?

We always planned on getting there and at the end of the season, Matt puts on the mask and embraces that he is the hero — and that Wilson Fisk puts on the suit, or in this case, a nod to his white suit with his white prison uniform and accepts who he is. Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) has a line earlier on where she tells him, “You can’t be both savior and oppressor. You have to decide which you are.” It was always intended to have these parallel stories, and if you look closely, there’s this religious parallel. Fisk mentions religion a couple of times, like when he’s at Vanessa’s (Ayelet Zurer) bedside and says he doesn’t know how to pray. And then later when he’s recounting the story of the Good Samaritans. It was really important for us to show that this story was the rise of the hero and the rise of the villain.

We only see Matt’s vision in episode five and it’s never implemented through the rest of the series. What was the decision behind that?

We had budgeted in seeing it a few more times and we actually had the effect done at least twice more throughout the season, but when we cut it together we felt it took us out of it. We had it once so you know what it is. It felt like if you go to that well too often you’re like, “Oh here we are, we’re in Matt’s special vision again.” We didn’t want it to be that or for that effect to take us out of the crime drama feel. There were two more instances where we did the effect. One was in episode seven with Stick. You were going to see how young Matt saw Stick when he throws Matt the keys, and his senses were all over the place. Then later when he catches the fighting sticks, his senses had been refined. That was a case purely of we hadn’t locked down the effect but we had to lock episode. The effect wasn’t ready in time. The next time you were going to see it was in episode 12 when Matt sees the blinded Chinese worker and registers that he’s been blinded. The last time was at the end of the season when Matt tells Karen that they can do this together. There’s a push in on Karen as she reacts and originally we had planned on doing it there, but when we put the effect in we were losing all the nuances of her expressions and what was going on with her thought process. We ended up taking it out. I never wanted that to become a schtick.

At the end of episode seven, Stick (Scott Glenn) is talking to a mystery man named Stone but many are overlooking the Black Sky. What is the Black Sky?

It fits into something bigger. There is a mention of Black Sky in another episode that isn’t episode seven. If fans look closely at episode one, you will find a reference to Black Sky. It’s a visual reference to Black Sky and that's important to Nobu and his people. One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “Who was Stick talking to?” You already named who he’s talking to, but I just say, “He’s a character from the comics.” Any fan of the comics will know who he’s talking to. We really wanted to pluck that out of Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear.

Stone’s speech also mentions doors opening, which tends to lead more toward Iron Fist territory and the mystical realm of K’un-Lun. Is this a reference or a tie-in to Iron Fist?

I can’t say anything! Is it literal or metaphorical? It’s very much like a code the same way the MCU does after the credits, which isn’t something we can do with the way that Netflix starts the next episode after the credits. But yes, it’s obviously tying into a bigger picture.

Along with that, Madame Gao and her powerful palm strike for an elderly woman …

There's obviously something going on there, as well as with the heroin she’s selling, stamped with the symbol of the Steel Serpent. Could that be another tie-in to Iron Fist? Time will tell. There is obviously more to her than meets the eye. I got a message from Ed Brubaker who asked, “Is Madame Gao Crane Mother?” I can’t even tell you!

At the end of the season, Matt gets the name of Daredevil, but Fisk never achieves Kingpin. What was the decision behind that?

I think there is a, dare I say, critical mass where things get a little bit silly. You know if in the last five minutes we went, “Oh they called him Daredevil! Oh they called him Kingpin!” It’s a little too much. Also there was no real natural way to get to Kingpin. It felt a little off. There is a point down the line to get there.

Daredevil is coming back with new showrunners for season two. Could you return for a potential third season?

Who knows. Scheduling permitting, anything is possible. My hope is that Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez hit it out of the park and continue on with the show. They’re great guys and were instrumental in helping me getting this season across the finish line. I would never intrude on somebody else who is having a good run. God knows there are plenty of Marvel characters and plenty of things going on in this universe. My biggest thing is that I would love in some form or fashion to return to the Marvel universe, whether in television or a feature. I love the people at Marvel and grew up reading the characters and it was a real dream come true getting to play with the toys. And I would really love to play with more toys down the line when my schedule opens up.

What did you think of Daredevil's first season? Sound off in the comments below.

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